Friday, July 25, 2003

Putting Lessons

Golf is supposed to be a cruel game, but it is also capriciously merciful. No matter how badly you play, some of your shots will go in the hole because the idiot optimism of your club selection and the mere stupidity of your course management will sometimes combine in one golden moment with a feeble swing and geriatric nerves to produce a brilliant result. This occurs surprisingly often. If you both misread and miss hit all your putts, for example, half of them will go wildly off line but half will move in the general direction of the target because the errors counteract one another. An analogue of this mechanism operates in the occasional cases in which journalists get something right. The universal corruption of our Press is sometimes moderated by an incompetence that is equally chronic but much more erratic in its effects. Thus, as Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler website ( points out, the pundits routinely get the facts wrong when they report on the current WMD scandal. They rightly attack a deeply dishonest regime but with misunderstood particulars. Unfortunately, the golf analogy quickly breaks down, because even the worst golfer really is trying to get the ball in the hole, whereas telling the truth about the public world is not the object of the sport of journalism.

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